Triratna Buddhist Community

Waking up together (Six benefits of spiritual community)

I want to talk about community. Community, or Sangha, plays a very important role in Buddhism. It’s regarded, along with the Buddha, who represents the goal of awakening, and the Dharma, or the teachings that lead to awakening, as being one of three objects of reverence that are collectively known as the “three jewels.” They’re called this because they’re precious. They could also be called the “three treasures,” though, which I think might be a more helpful translation. Sangha is something that is treasured.

Sangha literally means just “a bringing together.” It’s a bringing together of people around a common purpose, which we could say is spiritual development or even spiritual awakening. We come together in order to practice together, so that we may wake up together.

And here we are, having connected through Wildmind, which is a community-supported meditation initiative, or sangha-supported meditation initiative. Here we are, creating a community. So the question arises, how can this community help us to wake up, spiritually?

I’m going to describe seven ways that coming together as a community can help us wake up, but before then I want to say that sangha is not just a question of membership. It’s not that you pay your dues, or whatever, and then by some magical process we’ll experience all kinds of benefits. Sangha is something we have to do and to participate in if we want to benefit from it. We benefit by doing.

So I’d encourage you to make use of the online community that’s open to all sponsors. (If you haven’t figured out how to access that, then shoot me an email — you can do that just by replying to any of the community newsletters.)

1. Community Encourages Us When We’re Down

We all struggle sometimes. We get depressed or despondent. We doubt ourselves, don’t believe in ourselves, and lose touch with a sense of our own worth. And at those times we need others. We may have lost confidence in ourselves, but others still believe in us. And they can remind us or our own value. They can encourage us. And that word “encourage” is rather beautiful. It has “courage” embedded in it. When we lack confidence in ourselves, other people can give us courage. There’s something magical about that!

2. Community Strengthens Our Practice

I remember noticing, quite early on, that it was much easier to meditate when I was sitting with other people. Sitting on my own, 20 minutes of meditation might seem like a struggle, but sitting with others it was easy to sit for 30 minutes or more. Most people have the same experience. When we’re on our own we might feel a bit restless and shaky. Our practice doesn’t feel very strong. But when other meditators surround us, we feel rock-solid. Even with online community, where we’re not physically present with each other, just knowing that others are practicing with us can help us to commit to meditating.

3. Community Offers Us Connection

This is perhaps the most obvious benefit of community. We’re social animals, and even those of us who are introverts need a sense of being meaningfully connected to others. We have a deep-seated need to feel that we are part of something that is larger than ourselves. We have deep-seated needs to see others, and to be seen by them. We can share what’s going on with us, and we can learn what’s going on with others. These connections aren’t just of the mind, but are of the heart. We can care for others, and be cared for by them. This is a particularly meaningful — and perhaps the most meaningful — form of connection.

Sangha lets us see we’re not alone. Sometimes we struggle, and we might think that we’re inadequate — worse than others. And then we see that others have the same kinds of struggles as ourselves, and feel feel less alone, and judge ourselves less.

4. Community Challenges Us

It’s great connecting with other people, but it’s also difficult. That’s why Sartre said that “Hell is other people.” Sometimes people don’t behave well,  or they react to or point out a fault in something we’ve said, or maybe they just express something we don’t like. Recently I found it very hard to deal with the fact that another member of my Order was a climate-change skeptic. I had to deal with quite a bit of reactivity around that. But in the end that’s good. I have an opportunity to learn more about myself, and to work through and rise above my reactivity.

The question arises, “How can I relate respectfully and kindly to someone whose views I disagree with? How can I disagree in a way that doesn’t fall into belittling or name-calling?” Reactivity is a centrifugal force that pushes us apart. We see that in social networks when we block or mute people in order to keep life comfortable. Being committed to a community provides a centripetal force that counteracts this and helps us to grow through our discomfort.

5. Community Helps Us See Our Own Worth

We tend to discount our own positive qualities, but other people can be better at seeing us than we are at seeing ourselves and help to teach us our own worth. As part of my training to join the Triratna Buddhist Order I used to go on special retreats, in which we’d often participate in small discussion or study groups. At the end of the retreat the group would “rejoice in the merits” of each person in turn. Everyone in the group would talk about something they’d admired in that person. There can be a certain amount of discomfort when we’re on the receiving end of this kind of rejoicing, but it helps us to see ourselves more accurately and more positively.

On a related note, one of the things that stops people from contributing in an online community is that sense that they have nothing to offer. But it’s simply not possible for us to know what we have to offer until we offer it. At the very least, putting yourself out there when you think you have nothing to say is modeling the act of putting yourself out there. The simple act of saying something gives others permission and encouragement to come forward themselves.

6. Commmunity Inspires Us

Seeing other people act kindly, compassionately, and with wisdom challenges us in a very positive and even inspiring way. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen members of the Wildmind community (when, in a previous incarnation, it flourished on the Google Plus platform) show great kindness to each other. Often they would respond to each others’ struggles in ways that would never have occurred to me. I’ve learned a lot about kindness in this way. Seeing other people having insights is inspiring. Seeing people develop friendships is inspiring. Community enlarges our sense of what it is to be human.

Let’s come back to that question, “How can this community help us to wake up, spiritually?” In order for it to help us we have to be prepared to be a part of it. Community isn’t a given. It’s something that arises out of people reaching out to each other and making connections. We create it by being part of it. Together we forge community by innumerable acts of bravery, kindness, and communication.

Community is a treasure. It’s invaluable. In fact the Buddha said that acts of spiritual friendship were not half, but the whole of the spiritual life. Awakening isn’t possible without community. So let’s do it. Let’s make this community happen.

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Meditation in Ontario

harshaprabhaI just wanted to flag up that in late May and June my friend Harshaprabha of the Triratna Buddhist Order will be offering the opportunity to meet with like-minded people in Goderich, Guelph and Sudbury, Ontario.

He has planned a diverse set of events, ones which he believes will meet the expectations of those living in those places.
This is the first of his 2015 visits and one he is particularly looking forward to; not just meeting old and potentially new friends but the first time he has put on events in Sudbury.

Harshaprabha lives in the UK but has family ties to Ontario. He’s visited the province many times over the years in order to promote the practice of Buddhism.

I am sure you will receive a warm welcome by him and enjoy being introduced to meditation, practicing it and then hear about a particular Buddhist topic.

The events are in Goderich (29 and 30 May), Guelph (31 May), and Sudbury (6 and 7 June). These links will take you to PDF fliers for the relevant venues.

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Wildmind as “right livelihood”

Old buddha statuesThe reactions I get when I tell people that I did an interdisciplinary Master’s degree in Buddhism and business studies are very telling. Once people have stopped laughing or spluttering incoherently, they usually say that they’d assumed that Buddhism and business were mutually exclusive. But in fact the concept of “right livelihood” is part of the Buddha’s core teaching, the Eightfold Path.

In Buddhist practice we’re encouraged to make every aspect of our lives an opportunity to practice mindfulness, compassion, balance, and insight. Since we all have to earn a living, our work needs to become part of our practice.

Our mission at Wildmind is to benefit the world by promoting mindfulness and compassion through teaching meditation. Almost all the events we run are free of charge. This year (our Year of Going Deeper) we’ve been running eight events, which have had an average of 1,200 participants each. These events are by donation.

We also sell guided meditation CDs, which provide the bulk of the income that allows us to teach. And because we were selling our CDs online, we started selling other meditation supplies, both to support others’ meditation practice and to subsidize our teaching.

We don’t pay ourselves much — enough to live with simple dignity, but not enough (unfortunately) that we don’t have money worries.

But our aim is always the promotion of meditation.

There are other aspects to right livelihood as well. We strive to be honest. The three of us who work here strive to care for each other. We have a very harmonious office! We source fair trade products as much as possible. We support local small businesses (like the woman who makes our meditation cushions and the Buddhist former prison inmate who makes some of our malas).

I’m mentioning all this because I know you have choices about what you can do with your money. You can support large businesses like Amazon that treat their workers badly, dodge taxes, and use their quasi-monopoly power to bully suppliers. Or you can support people like us — not a faceless corporation, but people trying to make the world a truly better place.

Your money is power. You have the power to choose (or least influence) the kind of world you want to live in. Your choices matter.

This is consumer power at work: the money of people like you being used to make the world a better place.

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Meditation in Guelph and Goderich, Ontario

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Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 9.31.42 AMHarshaprabha is making the second of his twice yearly visits to Ontario. The events, in Guelph and Goderich, are suitable for those with an understanding of, or even just a curiosity about, Buddhism.

Harshaprabha’s dream is to see the Triratna Buddhist Community established in the Province.

To realize this dream he makes bi-annual trips and leads events for newcomers and others. These give people an opportunity to experience being with other like-minded people in meditation and in discussing Buddhism as interpreted by the founder Urgyen Sangharakshita and his disciples.
In between his visits Harshaprabha keeps up his connections via e-mail, Skype, telephone, and Facebook. His dream is to be doing this work full time.

Details of the Ontario events are in the attached e-flyers.

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Harshaprabha was ordained in 1982 in Tuscany, Italy, was a founding member of The Buddhist Hospice Trust. He ran a Buddhist Right Livelihood business called Octagon Architects + Designers for 21 years and was instrumental in setting up the Colchester Buddhist Centre, Essex, UK. He now co-leads a newcomers evening every week, facilitates a weekly Men’s Group, gives talks, and supports retreats at the Ipswich Buddhist Centre, Suffolk, UK.

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The Urban Retreat: Every ending is a beginning

urban retreat 2013

This is not the end, but the beginning.

Here is a summary of where we’ve been, and a list of suggestions for continuing your exploration of meditation.

Where we’re been

We hope you appreciated and benefited from the material we sent you. Remember that even if you didn’t manage to read everything or watch all the videos, they’re always there for you. In fact here’s a handy list of all the posts we sent during the retreat:

  1. Urban Retreat: Day 1: Demystifying lovingkindness
  2. Urban Retreat: Day 2: Authentic lovingkindness
  3. Urban Retreat: Day 3: Lovingkindness: When the Rubber Hits the Road
  4. Urban Retreat: Day 4: Protecting others, you protect yourself.
  5. Urban Retreat, Day 5: Looking with loving eyes
  6. Urban Retreat, Day 6: The tender heart of lovingkindness
  7. Urban Retreat, Day 7: The practice of gratitude
  8. Urban Retreat, Day 8: Developing compassion

And there were three guided meditations that we led as part of the event. You can access those anytime, here:

What’s next?

If you want to maintain and deepen your meditation practice and, perhaps, your practice of Buddhism more generally, here are a few options:

1. Wildmind’s Year of Going Deeper
Our Year of Going Deeper is a year-long series of meditation events, where we’ll explore various aspects of meditation. It’ll be like the Urban Retreat, but with more of a sense of community. There are eight events planned, spanning the whole of 2014. Some are introductory, while others are more in-depth. All the events are free, although donations are encouraged. Click here to learn more about the Year of Going Deeper.

2. The World in Balance, March 20, 2014
The World In Balance is a special event we’re running on the March equinox: March 20, 2014, at 16:57 UTC (click on the link to add the event to your calendar in your local time). It’s a worldwide meditation event, taking place at the exact moment that the earth’s equator passes the center of the sun, the earth is perfectly upright, and the transit from the seasonal extremes is at a balance point worldwide — but at the moment the details of the event are a secret! All we can tell you now if that it’s going to be big. Sign up for our special World in Balance newsletter and we’ll reveal the secret in due time! (There won’t be many mailings.)

3. Join Wildmind’s Community on Google Plus
Our community is the most civilized, sane, compassionate place you’ll find for discussing your practice, and for getting support and encouragement. Join here.

4. Subscribe to Wildmind’s regular, bi-monthly newsletter
Our regular newsletter goes out roughly every two weeks, and contains links to selected news and articles from our blog. As of the next newsletter, there will also be a special article in each edition that hasn’t been published on our blog. Sign up here.

5. Join us for a weekend retreat
Bodhipaksa will be leading a retreat in Florida (just south of Tampa) from Feb 21–23, 2014. You can find out more or register here. There will also be a weekend retreat in southern New Hampshire, May 2–4, 2014. To find out more, subscribe to our newsletter!

6. Make use of other Triratna resources
Free Buddhist Audio is a treasure-trove of audio and written resources on the theme of Buddhist practice. The Buddhist Center is Triratna’s central site, which you can use to find a Triratna Center near you, or to find other resources.

7. Help us to spread the benefits of meditation
Lastly, we’re put a lot of work into this Urban Retreat. How about giving something back, by making a donation of $5, or $10, or even $20? We have a special fundraising project at the moment called the Free Bodhi Fund, which will help us to employ more staff so that Bodhipaksa can be freed up from admin and concentrate on teaching. You can contribute to the Free Bodhi Fund here. Oh, and donors can opt to receive perks as rewards for their donations!

May you fare well in the future, and may our paths cross again.

Yours,
Bodhipaksa

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Join the Urban Retreat, Nov 9–16

blazing like the sun - web logoAn “urban retreat” is a week of online talks, teachings, led meditations, and other resources, all designed to help you practice the Buddha’s teachings effectively, as you go about your day.

From Saturday 9th to Saturday 16th November, an urban retreat will be taking place here online, and you are invited to join! The theme will be: “Blazing Like the Sun”: how can our hearts be more overflowing with kindness, compassion, confidence, and love of life? How can we find the “freedom of heart” that is loving-kindness?

Whichever level of experience you are at, each day there will be support here to help you engage with the meditation practice, and to incorporate it into your daily life. We’ll be posting material every day. It will be best to start on the Saturday and follow the retreat each day. But if you can’t do that, just join in when you can.

The Urban Retreat is an activity being run by the Triratna Buddhist Community, of which we’re a part. Participation is entirely free!

Much love,
Bodhipaksa

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Buddhist centre plans for derelict Southampton pub

A Buddhist group is trying to turn a boarded up derelict Southampton pub into a meditation centre.

The Plume of Feathers Pub in the St Mary’s area of the city has been boarded up for several months.

The Triratna Buddhist Order’s Southampton group has submitted a planning application to develop the pub in St Mary Street.

Leader Dharma Modna declined to comment on the proposal until the planning application had been heard.

Local councillor Sarah Bogle said: “I think it’s a really novel idea.

“I was surprised, to be honest, when I saw the planning application but also I thought why not?

“It’s …

Read the original article »

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The Buddha Walks Into A Bar, by Lodro Rinzler

The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation is the literary debut of 28 year-old Shambhala Buddhist teacher, Lodro Rinzler. The book is aimed at “Generation O” and makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge or experience of Buddhism. Having said that, despite being a ‘young Buddhist’ I have almost a decade of experience of Buddhism yet I still found this book enjoyable, useful, and interesting.

I must admit, I did wince slightly at some of the expressions in the book, such as “Sid said…” when referring to the Buddha, but perhaps this is due to not being so ‘down with the kids’ these days. However, the cringe-effect quickly passed and I found Rinzler’s approach to be both down to earth and inspiring at the same time. The introduction clearly sets out the book’s purpose as a guide for (young) people who have sex, drink alcohol once in a while and still get annoyed at life when it doesn’t go our way. The book also discusses how to apply the Dharma to these daily issues that pervade our lives by living life to the fullest and being more in the “now” (and not necessarily having to give up those things that you enjoy. I think this is a reassuring message for young people interested in Buddhism.

I run monthly events for young people at the Brighton Buddhist Centre. There has been some resistance and challenge from people who are too old to come along, asking why young people need their own separate events, and this is why: Early adulthood is a time when people are exploring their identity and role in society. Young adults, from teenage years even into their twenties and thirties, may be still going through the process of separating from their parents by exploring, pushing and defining their own boundaries, beliefs and ideologies. What is needed is not any perceived imposition of more rules or boundaries, or anyone telling them how they ought to behave. What this book does well is to avoid that; it acknowledges in the first chapter that we might have the intrusive thought “Brett is a real asshole” [sic] while meditating. Rather than discussing the negative implications of having such thoughts on a prolonged and regular basis, Rinzler simply gives advice on how to use meditation practice to break free of our habitual responses in a playful and realistic way.

To give you a flavour of the playful and realistic character of the chapters, here are some the chapter headings: Being Gentle with Your Incredible Hulk Syndrome; Sex, Love and Compassion; How to Apply Discipline, Even When Your Head gets Cut off; Singing a Vajra Song (in the shower). Each of these chapters appears in one of four parts of the book: The whole book is divided into four parts: 1. First, get your act together, 2. How to save the world, 3. Letting go into space and 4. Relaxing into magic. Each part explores a different ‘dignity’ of Shambhala Buddhism: the tiger, the snow lion, the garuda and the dragon. The qualities of the tiger are discernment, gentleness and precision. This part of the book guides us in discerning our intentions and motivations in life (discerning our mandala), and working with difficult emotions and includes some instruction some shamatha practice that is simple enough for a beginner, starting with just 5 minutes.

Rinzler also emphasises the importance of inhabiting the present moment, and making the most of it by taking care of the details of our home, our finances and even our clothes, in a way that is relevant to young people. In the next part, the snow lion represents open heartedness and positive emotion; her qualities are applied particularly to sex and relationships, and we are introduced to the six paramitas (perfections) and the practice of loving kindness meditation. Following on from this, the garuda makes its entry. The garuda is an outrageous mythical being (half man, half bird) who flies above the earth and embodies the quality of fearlessness. Here we come to recognise the nature of fear, impermanence, groundlessness and to ultimately develop equanimity. This part of the book guides us leaning into the less comfortable aspects of life, letting go of attachment and creating a greater sense of spaciousness with our jobs, family, money, gadgets, social life, et cetera.

Finally, we are introduced to the magical dragon, and her qualities of authenticity, humour and delight. I loved this part of the book; I’m currently writing my PhD thesis and can get a bit cranky at times! The dragon has at some dark times inspired me to let go and be a bit lighter, and to be more accepting when I’m not feeling at my best. This part also contains the story of Milarepa, who caused much harm in his lifetime but still managed to attain enlightenment. Reading the story reminded me that we can all transform ourselves and shine light into the darkness. There is a lovely simple exercise here for opening the heart and mind, which can be really helpful when feeling as though one is in the middle of a maelstrom!

Overall, I found this book enjoyable, engaging and inspiring. I think I would have liked to see a bit more of a health warning along the lines that although the practices in the book are great and can be really effective, they aren’t always easy to do, and that deeper effects tend to be cumulative. Having said that, I loved the book and think it’s a great introductory read for a younger person who would like to know more about Buddhism, or just life in general. There is no pressure from the book to become a Buddhist; in fact this is even stated in the introduction. We’re actually planning to use some of the ideas from the book, combined with Sangharakshita’s System of Meditation’ as a theme for our Young Sangha activities at Brighton Buddhist Centre, so there’s a recommendation!

Title: The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation
Author: Lodro Rinzler
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-590-30937-7
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

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Support the struggles of marginalized Buddhists in Hungary

A petition has been started in order to protect the rights of Buddhist Gypsies, or Roma, in Hungary.

This year a nationalist government was elected in Hungary. The new government rewrote the constitution and passed a law that deregisters all but a few mainstream Christian and Jewish religious organisations. These steps were taken with the aim of curbing tax abuses, but the blunderbuss policy “de-registers” all faith groups that count fewer than 1,000 members, or that have been in existence for less than 20 years.

Groups that manage to get established — and stay established for 20 years — and accumulate over 1000 members, cannot get official recognition without a parliamentary vote with a two-thirds majority. This amounts to an impossibly high hurdle, meaning that essentially no new groups can get government recognition and enjoy the tax benefits that established traditions have.

This affects many organizations, since under the new law, only 14 of 358 registered churches and religious associations will be granted legal recognition according to Christian Century. Groups such as Methodists, Pentecostal churches, reformed Jewish churches, and all the Islamic, Buddhist, and Hinduist congregations, are being de-registered.

Prominent pro-democracy dissidents from the Soviet era have written a letter condemning the new law. “Never before has a Member State of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state. These are all established fundamental rights in our common Europe,” they said.

Some established churches have welcomed the law. Zoltan Tarr, general secretary of the Hungarian Reformed Church, commented, “We wanted a new law to make it more difficult to establish churches here – and we’re happy the present government has now done something.”

Buddhism, as a religion that is relatively new to Europe, is badly affected by the new system; no Buddhist organizations will be allowed to have tax-exempt status. Among those affected are the marginalized Roma, or Gypsies, who have recently embraced Buddhism.

Historically, the Roma people originated in India, leaving, for unknown reasons, about 1000 years ago. One theory is that the name Roma is derived from the Sanskrit ḍōmba, meaning “a man of low caste living by singing and music.” If the Roma left India in order to escape caste discrimination, they fared little better in Europe, where they have often been a despised population. Recently, however, Hungarian Roma, inspired by the conversions of Indian Dalits (former so-called “Untouchables”) to Buddhism, have formed the Jai Bhim network, under the umbrella of the Triratna Buddhist Community.

The name Jai Bhim is an explicit reference to the leader of the conversion movement in India, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Sensing a deep affinity with the Dalits of India, Roma converts to Buddhism refer to themselves as “the Dalits of Europe. The Jai Bhim Network “educates, agitates and organises on the footsteps of Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar in schools and congregations in rural Roma communities.” The organization was formally established in 2007 in order to promote the social integration of Romas, and has received support from Buddhists in Europe, India, and Taiwan.

When the Jai Bhim Network’s registration lapses at the end of this year, they will lose government funding for the schools that they run, and will find it very difficult to continue to provide education to the 1,000 students who study with them.

Subhuti, an English-born Buddhist who is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, has a long-standing involvement with the Dalit Buddhists in India, and for six years has gone to Hungary twice a year in order to support Roma Buddhists.

According to Subhuti, the work that the Roma Buddhists he supports is beginning to flourish. “Besides the very effective education they offer to Gypsy students who have no other realistic opportunities for education, they are beginning to have a deeper impact on Hungarian Gypsy society. At the recent census, some 500 or more Gypsies declared themselves to be Buddhists.” He sees this as a very significant development, similar to the mass conversions that took place in India in 1956, when Ambedkar let tens of thousands of Dalits to Buddhism.

Those concerned about the situation of these marginalized Buddhists in Hungary can show their support by signing this online petition. A second online petition can be found here. (On the petition Név means Name and Foglalkozás means Occupation.)

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Working with the Worldly Winds

A talk by Vajragupta for Day 2 of Triratna’s International Urban Retreat, in which he illustrates how we can create effective methods for working with the eight Worldly Winds — gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and infamy, and praise and blame — that blow about us all the time, and even turn them into spiritual opportunities.

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